Freddy Stringer recalls pre-war activity at RAE Farnborough
Having spent most of my fifty years of professional association with the Royal Aerospace Establishment, Farnborough, it is of interest to note that when my father was posted to Aldershot in 1927 I saw a formation of three Bristol Fighters. They must have been from IV Squadron. My mother said, ‘You will see a lot of aeroplanes here’. At my tender age of five I did not realise how true would be her words. I still instruct there.
During the period 1934-37 I saw a lot of the Squadron as a schoolboy. In those days one could walk along the edge of the airfield to the two IV Squadron grey hangars on the east side. If you were not chased away you could enjoy a pleasant day sitting on the grass some thirty yards from the hangars. I well recall a lifetime message of value passed to my brother and me by an airman. We moved forward gradually until we were under the wing of a Vickers Valentia large biplane troop carrier visiting Farnborough. This was usually to embark troops from Aldershot for exercises. We spent all morning under the wing. At lunch time an airman was walking towards the barracks, now the Apprentices Hostel. I asked if it was all right if we stayed under the wing. He said ‘No, B….. off’. I learned a never-to-be-forgotten lesson that day: don’t ask questions!
The Squadron had one of two Cierva C30 autogiros in addition to the Audax. They could fly slowly and descend almost vertically, particularly if the engine stopped – when they would autorotate to the ground. One Saturday morning I watched a C30 (later called the Avro Rota) flying slowly over the hangar nearest the main RAE gate. Its engine stopped and it descended rapidly and quietly, obviously making directly for the apron just in front of the open hangar. The pilot actually shouted a warning in case anyone should walk out of the hangar and get squashed. All was well however. During an Empire Air Day in 1937, I believe, three Squadron Hawker Audax were flying in formation from east to west over the hangars. They were releasing pyrotechnics to simulate anti-aircraft gun fire. One of the Audax suddenly stalled and spun crashing into the playground of the Farnborough Secondary School near the junction of Sycamore Road and Church Avenue. Both pilot and gunner were killed, sadly.
One of the hangars remains to this day. It was used as a Fire Station by RAE until the weekend of the Harrier End-of-Era party at Gutersloh. Hopefully some photographs can be produced of the hangar while it still exists. It was built just prior to World War 1. Nearby is Cody’s Tree. The tree is now preserved as a plastic monument to Colonel Cody who used it as a tether to test his early aircraft circa 1908. There were several trees around it at the time. During the IV Squadron period it was sprayed frequently with petrol since the refuelling point was alongside with hose pipes which swung from overhead arms on high posts. As the posts were disconnected from the aircraft, petrol would run out of the nozzle.
Presumably the tree did not appreciate this treatment and eventually died. Nearby also were the machine gun butts used to zero and test the Audax guns. The No.1 Officers’ Mess is still in use; so is the barracks which is almost intact. The guardroom is also in one piece just near the RAE/IAM Queen’s Gate.
Having set down these items which may interest IV Squadron Association members I have searched my comprehensive collection of aircraft general arrangement scale drawings to find aircraft types used by the Squadron namely the Bristol Fighter, Armstrong Whitworth Atlas and Hawker Audax while at Farnborough. I also have included the BE2c and RE8 used after the Squadron was formed at Farnborough before going to France in World War 1. Also drawings of the Hawker Hector used subsequent to the move from Farnborough to Odiham in the 1937-38 period will be of interest.